McIlroy, Matsuyama, Finau among those to qualify for TOC under new rules for ’21

Rory McIlroy is one of 17 players who qualified for next year’s Sentry Tournament of Champions without winning a tournament this year, earning a spot instead by being among the 30 players to make the Tour Championship. AP file photo

The Sentry Tournament of Champions never had a day quite like Sunday.

The traditional winners-only event on the PGA Tour added 17 players to its field under its plan this season to let in non-winners who qualified for the Tour Championship that takes place this week in Atlanta. The qualification change, which is for the 2021 tournament only, was made due to 10 events in 2020 being wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.

The players who are in the top 30 of the FedEx Cup standings without a victory this calendar year and are eligible to play in the 2021 Sentry, set for Jan. 7-10 at the Kapalua Plantation Course, are Harris English, Hideki Matsuyama, Brendon Todd, Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele, Sebastian Munoz, Lanto Griffin, Scottie Scheffler, Joaquin Niemann, Tony Finau, Kevin Kisner, Abraham Ancer, Ryan Palmer, Kevin Na, Mackenzie Hughes, Cameron Champ and Billy Horschel.

That list brought the total for the TOC to 36 with the yet-to-be announced fall swing still to go. A total of 34 winners took part in the 2020 event.

“We’ve got this one-off qualification this year and what I love about it is — obviously it’s been a challenging year for so many people — a bright spot has been golf,” Sentry TOC Executive Director Alex Urban said Monday. “And now we have this even brighter spot of ‘Hey, let’s take this challenge and turn it into something that’s really cool and unique.’

“This is going to be a unique year, so here we’ve got these 30 guys who qualified for us yesterday, 17 additional who hadn’t yet qualified, and what a great crop of guys, what a cool day for the tournament.”

Those who had already qualified by winning a tournament this year are Justin Thomas, Cameron Smith, Andrew Landry, Marc Leishman, Webb Simpson, Nick Taylor, Adam Scott, Viktor Hovland, Patrick Reed, Sungjae Im, Tyrrell Hatton, Daniel Berger, Bryson DeChambeau, Collin Morikawa, Michael Thompson, Richy Werenski, Jim Herman, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm.

Urban was glued to his television on Sunday as the top-ranked players in the world, No. 1 Johnson and No. 2 Rahm, battled down the stretch in the BMW Championship that finalized the top 30. With Johnson and Rahm already in the Sentry field, Urban was paying attention to other aspects.

“I don’t know about you, but I was very locked in, especially for guys who were right on the bubble, like Mackenzie Hughes who made that 5-footer there at the end to basically make it in, pretty cool,” Urban said.

The unique entry system this season for Sentry drew prominent notice throughout the final-round broadcast Sunday on NBC.

“I think what’s really cool about our event, and this is one of the reasons why I love it, is the uniqueness of the event,” Urban said. “We’re the only event generally that, in a normal year, has solely winners. I’m going to take you back to earlier in the summer, when we were figuring out, ‘Oh man, we’ve got these tournaments that are canceled, how are we going to make up for them?’

“It was actually our player committee that gets together and talks about these kinds of things and they’re the ones who said, ‘Hey, we need to figure out another qualification category for Sentry Tournament of Champions on Maui because we want to make sure that we have every opportunity to qualify for that event with some events being canceled.’ “

That is a point of pride for Maui’s event, according to Urban.

“That came from them, that came from the players,” he said. “To me there’s no more of a badge of honor for an event than being something that’s so important that they wanted to figure out how they could get back here.”

Announcers, including lead analyst Paul Azinger, talked several times Sunday about how the Tour Championship brought qualification to the U.S. Open, Masters, World Golf Championship events, and “then every single time the Sentry Tournament of Champions was mentioned and it’s because it’s so important to those guys. I heard from several of the players yesterday after they qualified about their excitement. … To me it’s about being part of the regular conversation of the PGA Tour. This is a reward, so I think you had 17 guys that feel like they earned a really cool reward yesterday.”

Could this new entry plan become a regular thing?

“We’re likely going to have one of our largest fields ever and this is going to be arguably our deepest field of all time for that reason,” Urban said. “A bunch of guys who either won or did some really good things this year, and I think it’s going to be a really, really cool group of guys.

“We’re always thinking about stuff. At the end of the day, too, it’s important to remember I think one of the unique fingerprints of this tournament is its champions-only requirement and the ability to qualify for over here. I do think that that helps create the event’s identity, but, yeah, there’s positives and negatives to all that kind of stuff and we’re always thinking about it.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.


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